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The Green Gold of the Mayans – Rural tourism in the Mayan Riviera



Mexico is a country renowned for its crystal-clear waters, fabulous food, eternal sunshine and warm people. It also offers endless travel experiences which allow tourists to experience the depth of Mexico’s natural and cultural heritage. This is very much the case with several community-based projects promoting rural tourism in the Mayan Riviera. Through these programs, travellers have the opportunity to immerse themselves in an ancient culture that is still very much alive. This, of course, is the legendary Mayan culture.

One such off-the-beaten track travel opportunity is visiting the ecotourism centre “Selva Bonita” (or Kiichpam Kaax, in the Mayan language). Located in the state of Quintana Roo, the centre is run by its founder: Don Damián. He escaped from many years of working in the mainstream hospitality industry in Cancun in order to return to his roots. Don Damián set up Selva Bonita to put Mayan culture in the spotlight, with the aim of preserving and conserving it.

After arriving at Selva Bonita and meeting Don Damián, you will realise he is an anonymous hero and a true visionary. The essence of Selva Bonita undoubtedly reflects the many challenges Don Damián faced on his journey to create his vision. The road was not easy, as Don Damián himself admits! In his words, those promoting rural tourism in the Mayan Riviera  must “not only convince public administrations of the benefits that tourism can bring to the socio-economic development of the rural communities, but also the community itself”.

Discovering Selva Bonita

Selva Bonita has all the facilities needed to enjoy a pleasant stay in the heart of the Mexican Caribbean jungle. There are ecological cabins, a swimming pool, and a restaurant with traditional dishes made to order using local produce. In fact, you can pick the produce used for your meals yourself for a true farm to table experience! Through doing so, you’ll discover the bounty of the organic garden and surrounding fruit trees.

The main tour offered at the ecotourism centre transports visitors to the more traditional Mayan world. It includes a visit to (and explanation of) a Mayan house, as well as visit to the beekeeping area and a demonstration of sugar cane extraction. All demonstrations during this Mayan heritage tour are given by local guides.

Do you want to experience total immersion in the Mayan culture of the past and present? Plan to take part in one or two of the extra activities offered to visitors at Selva Bonita. You’ll be paired with a local guide, or even with Don Damián himself for your expedition. You might observe the traditional extraction of chewing gum, or climb a pyramid hidden by jungle growth. Perhaps you’ll also opt for a hike through the jungle, where you’ll identify the traces of its inhabitants. Your guide will be ready to tell you legends passed down by Mayan grandparents. All of these experiences allow you to establish your own limits as to how far you want to delve into Mayan culture.

Don Damián’s vision is to share the Mayan legacy with the world, so that it never dies. And he really is achieving this vision through Selva Bonita. There is no doubt that every visitor who comes to Selva Bonita leaves with a bit of Mayan culture anchored to his heart.

Discovering Nuevo Xcan

Another example of rural tourism in the Mayan Riviera is the community of Nuevo Xcan. This ecotourism destination is located just 60 miles from Cancun. In Nuevo Xcan, the community has formed a cooperative to offer tours inside one of the most impressive underground rivers in the country. There are no hotels for tourists here, but there is the possibility of connecting with a local family for a ‘homestay’. If you decide to try the homestay experience, your accommodations will be within the home of a member of the local community. This is a unique anthropological experience where sharing fast becomes second nature.

Both Selva Bonita and Nuevo Xcan are examples of the enormous diversity of tourist experiences that exist just a few hours away from Cancun, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Outside the typical all-inclusive resorts, there are genuine projects that mix sustainable rural development, biodiversity protection, and unique travel experiences. Travellers can enjoy these unique experiences alongside local people, their ancestral cultures and mother nature. Here, they won’t feel like tourists, but like very special guests.

More about rural tourism in Yucatán

Guardian writer Kevin Rushby experienced the magic of rural tourism in the Mayan Riviera though a press trip we organised. Read more about his experiences in the article Meet the Mayans: a tour of the real Yucatán, Mexico, including several homestays with local community members. Don’t forget to visir our Mexico Holidays page to learn more and to enquire.

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